Intro and Analysis
This new joint statement from al-Qa'ida's affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic Maghreb (AQAP and AQIM)- which seems unprecedented- comes in opposition to the U.S.-led international coalition to fight against the Islamic State (IS), characterizing instead as war against Islam and Muslims. Several things to note in analysis:
a)- This statement does not mean AQAP and AQIM are getting closer to IS or warming to the idea of pledging allegiance to IS. Indeed, they have firmly rejected IS' Caliphate declaration, and have maintained their loyalty to al-Qa'ida Central (AQC). For comparison, note that members and supporters of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam- an Iraqi jihadi group (with a Syrian branch) which like al-Qa'ida does not accept IS' claim to be a state or caliphate- have also denounced the U.S. airstrikes etc. targeting IS as constituting war against Islam, and like al-Qa'ida would want an ideal situation where all jihadis having the end-goal of a Caliphate unite against a common enemy, while rejecting IS' assumption of supreme authority. Thus Abu Bakr al-Iraqi of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, who previously praised IS' beheading of James Foley while condemning IS' massacre of the Sha'itat rebellion against its rule in Deir az-Zor province:
"America in its war against Islam will rely on two components:
1st. Its allies outside of Syria and Iraq who will provide it their military bases, financial support, and increase the stranglehold on the two lands.
2nd. Its allies inside Syria and Iraq and they are:
1. The Safavid Iraqi army.
2. The secular Kurdish army [Peshmerga]
3. The so-called 'moderate Syrian opposition.'
4. Some of the mercenary gangs of the Sahwa of money and slaves of the dollar."
Others outside the transnational jihadist circles have also not hesitated to characterize the U.S.-led initiatives as war on Islam, most notably the Islamic Army in/of Iraq, which by admission of sources from within the group and its supporters is having problems with IS in Iraq. Nonetheless, the group's spokesman Ibrahim al-Shammary affirmed the following:
"On the anniversary of 11 September [9/11], America is forming an international alliance while claiming that it is for the war on terrorism. Oh Muslims, be wary and heed the strongest warning, for you are the intended target."
These kinds of statements have wider implications for outside hopes of building an internal Sunni coalition within Iraq to fight against IS beyond those already working with the central government. Interestingly, the joint AQIM-AQAP statement is dated 11 September: just as AQC in its propaganda portrayed post-9/11 as part of a new initiative of war on Islam, so too AQIM and AQAP, like Ibrahim al-Shammary, attach significance to the building of the anti-IS coalition by Obama as coinciding with the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
In short though, it is the internal Iraq insurgent dynamic that is of greater analytical interest, while AQ-affiliates denouncing the U.S. actions as war on Islam is fairly predictable. One might argue that a recent purported statement from Katiba Uqba ibn Nafi [KUN]- a joint AQIM-Ansar al-Shari'a Tunisia project- in support of IS as a Caliphate project reflects an international jihadi trend getting behind IS in the face of the U.S.-led alliance against IS, but I share Daveed Gartenstein-Ross' skepticism of the authenticity of this statement for some reasons of my own. First, Ansar al-Shari'a Tunisia's official Twitter news feed, which advertises KUN social media output, has not shared this statement, and second, its only source appears to be in pro-IS circles: besides this, other problems exist with the statement, such as a lack of date on it.
[Update: However, it is also to be noted that the opening of the statement refers to "Kairouan support for the state of the Islamic State"- thus, as Gartenstein-Ross notes, this statement could be genuine and just from a Kairouan province contingent of Katiba Uqba ibn Nafi- which has produced a number of IS alumni- rather than on behalf of the whole battalion as the statement might misleadingly imply at first sight, because 'Kairouan' is also used to refer to Tunisia as a whole].
The problem for IS in trying to get new allies for its Caliphate is that its fighting other rebels- including Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria- and brutality towards Muslim dissenters and opponents within its dominion often blunts any potential sympathy for its actual project in the face of U.S. airstrikes etc.
b)- The joint statement refers to IS but without prefixing jamaat ['group'] to IS' name to indicate rejection of IS' claim to be a state/caliphate. This is an interesting contrast with the standard al-Qa'ida approach (also echoed by Jabhat al-Nusra), which had previously accepted IS' prior incarnation of the Islamic State of Iraq as a legitimate emirate in its own right, despite lacking control at the time of substantial contiguous territory and the workings of an actual state. Nonetheless, I would urge that one should not make too much of this and it most likely just reflects the broader official anti-fitna stance of this statement urging for unity in the face of the U.S.-led coalition (including an end to infighting and name-calling), thus I suspect AQAP and AQIM simply do not wish to bring up the fundamental AQC-IS dispute at this point.
c)- The tribute to Ahrar al-Sham in the wake of the massacre of its leadership comes as no surprise, to be noted in conjunction with Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's tribute to the group. This reflects the high regard in which global jihadism generally holds Ahrar al-Sham and the group's status as the link between this ideological trend and Islamist projects focused on the national framework (cf. Jaysh al-Mujahideen Iraq- a Salafi nationalist, revolutionary and anti-Shi'a insurgent group- also extended tribute to the fallen leaders of Ahrar al-Sham).
Below is a translation by me of the statement.
Joint Statement (11 September: Statement No. 1)
Situation: Support for Muslims over the alliance of Crusaders and Apostates.
The suffering of our people in Iraq and al-Sham has not been absent from our minds, and what they have offered from bodily sacrifices. Nor have the negative consequences- which have followed on for the people of al-Sham from the infighting of the mujahideen- been absent from our minds. Nor has the sadness of the arenas of jihad for the loss of its best leaders and sons from infighting- in which the beneficiary has been the people of the Zionists [Israel], the Cross worshippers, the Rafidites [Shi'a], the Nusayris [Alawites] and their followers- been absent from our minds.
Then there is America- the head of disbelief- and the symbol of the enemy and tyranny, rearing its head again, enlisting behind it allies from the Crusaders and their apostate collaborators, leading the Crusader attempt to wage war on Islam and Muslims, to increase the misfortunes of the Ummah, under the pretext of striking the Islamic State and annihilate it- so they have claimed!! We ask God to render them disappointed, defeated and slaughtered.
As for this oppressive Crusader effort, we can only stand with Islam and Muslims, against Crusader America and its alliance (Jewish-Crusader-Safavid-Apostate) that is the true enemy of the Ummah and the Path and the first to wage war on Shari'a, so we declare this stance of ours to please God, to support our mujahideen brothers over the disbelievers, and defend our Muslim people wherever they are. Thus we say:
. Our mujahideen brothers in Iraq and al-Sham…stop infighting among yourselves and stand as one rank in the face of the initiative by America and its Satanic alliance lying in wait against us all to break us again and again. Counter the unity of the nations of disbelief against you by your unity against them, in accordance with the speech of the Almighty: "And fight the polytheists as a whole just as they fight you as a whole, and know that God is with those aware of Him" [...]
. Oh mujahideen and ansar [helpers/supporters], stop name-calling and hurling of insults, and turn your truth-telling pens and cutting swords on the head of disbelief- America- and its oppressive, aggressive alliance.
. To all who bear arms in the face of the tyrant Bashar and his shabiha, it is you that America will seek to finance with its double-dealing and deception, that you may deviate from your path and only be banners in its hand realizing its interests.
. To our people- the Ahl al-Sunna [Sunnis] in Iraq and al-Sham, do not forget America's crimes against your lands, and do not forget its stance in the line of your battles, and its poisonous daggers remain planted in your chests, so do not let its trickery deceive you, or enter into its alliance, or become among its soldiers against your mujahideen sons.
. We call on our Muslim Ummah to support our people in Iraq and al-Sham, and support them with what is precious and costly, and stand in their rank against America, the head of disbelief, the source of evil and the symbol of corruption and oppression.
. We call on our Muslim Ummah to disavow the calls of the apostate rulers and their collaborators in error and leading astray to support the disbelieving Americans against the mujahideen, just as we call on them to stop their conscripted sons from participating in this oppressive enemy war that aims in truth to preserve American Crusader hegemony over our Muslim Ummah and protect the state of the people of Zionists [Israel].
. We call on our people in the Arabian Peninsula in particular and in all the states in this Satanic alliance in general to stand against their collaborationist governments and prevent them- by all lawful means- from continuing this war on Islam under the pretext of waging war on terrorism.
. As for you, oh allies of disbelief and evil, take heed of what will afflict you, for black days await you. For these leaders of yours today are sinking and are afraid to confront the knights of Islam. And indeed you hav tested the swords of the soldiers of Islam and the assault of the heroes of Iraq and al-Sham, so God brought you to defeat and degradation at their hands, and your armies were defeated bearing the consequences of failure.
. We conclude these calls by reminding the Islamic Ummah of the words of the renewer of time and vanquisher of the Americans- Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] (may God have mercy on him and make good his soil): "Consult no one in [fighting] the Americans."
To conclude this statement, we offer our sincere condolences to the mujahideen of the group Ahrar al-Sham…and we ask God to have mercy on their martyrs and remunerate us and them in their misfortune and render us better from it, just as we offer to our people in al-Sham in general and the families of martyrs in particular our sincere condolences and we ask God the Almighty, the High to connect with their hearts and pour out endurance on them.
God, provide for this Ummah a just situation in which the people who obey you are made mighty and the people of your misfortune are laid low. God, give victory to our mujahideen brothers in Iraq and al-Sham and in every place.God, ruin America and whoever of its allies and those taking its side against the mujahideen.
Qa'ida al-Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb.